Revenge pornography victims as young as 11, investigation finds
Children as young as 11 are among more than 1,000 alleged victims of revenge porn who reported offences in the first year of the new law coming into effect, it has been revealed.
In April 2015, it became an offence to share private sexual photographs or films without the subject's consent.
The BBC analysed Freedom of Information requests from 31 forces in England and Wales between April and December.
Online safety charities said victims were left "hugely damaged".
Revenge porn refers to the act of a partner or ex-partner purposefully distributing images or videos of a sexual nature without the other person's consent.
Our analysis shows:
- There were 1,160 reported incidents of revenge pornography from April 2015 to December 2015
- Three victims were 11 years old with some 30% of offences involving young people under 19
- The average age of a revenge porn victim was 25
- Around 11% of reported offences resulted in the alleged perpetrator being charged, 7% in a caution and 5% in a community resolution
- Some 61% of reported offences resulted in no action being taken against the alleged perpetrator. Among the main reasons cited by police include a lack of evidence or the victim withdrawing support
- Facebook was used by perpetrators in 68% of cases where social media was mentioned in reports. Then came Instagram (12%) followed by Snapchat (5%)
The new law was introduced after campaigners lobbied MPs to make it a criminal offence.
Previously, convictions for this type of offence were sought under existing copyright or harassment laws.
It covers images shared on and offline without the subject's permission and with the intent to cause harm. Physical distribution of images is also covered.
An NSPCC spokesman said: "It is shocking that children as young as 11 are becoming victims of revenge porn - and underlines the urgent need for action by social media sites to improve safety.
"Young people also need to be aware of the serious risks of sending explicit material or photos of themselves."
Laura Higgins, of the Revenge Porn Helpline, said being a victim was a "hugely distressing, damaging and violating experience".
She said: "The effect on victims is often pervasive and long-lasting.
"Whilst they have been the victim of a crime, often individuals internalise feelings of guilt and shame, which can negatively affect an individual's sense of self-worth and self-esteem.
"Victim-blaming attitudes only exacerbate these feelings. Some feel so isolated and overwhelmed they consider suicide."
Who has been prosecuted?
- Jason Asagba, 21, of Romford, east London, shared intimate pictures of a woman on Facebook and was handed a six-month jail sentence, suspended for 18 months. He first threatened to post the pictures three days after the new laws came into force
- David Jones, 53, of Wallasey in Merseyside, was jailed for 16 weeks for posting sexually explicit photographs of a woman on social media. The woman said she felt "complete terror" when the photos appeared online
- Luke King, of Aspley in Nottingham, shared an explicit photo of a woman using the messaging service WhatsApp. He was jailed for 12 weeks for harassment. The woman, from Derbyshire, told police she was "disgusted" and "really upset"
Ms Higgins said the new legislation was flawed because it did not ensure the anonymity of the victim; it did not cover historical cases; and it did not cover images that had been altered via Photoshop.
The English Regions data unit analysed data from police forces in England and Wales. Some 31 responded - Dorset, Hampshire and Lincolnshire denied the request on cost grounds, while responses from Avon and Somerset, Leicestershire, Bedfordshire, Cleveland, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Wiltshire, Dyfed Powys and Gwent Police remain outstanding.
There were wide variations in the charge rate among police forces. Nobody had so far been charged in Lancashire, Devon and Cornwall or Cumbria, for example. In the West Midlands, 25% of reported offences resulted in a charge, while in Staffordshire, the rate dropped to 3%.
Simon Kempton, the lead on cyber crime for the Police Federation of England and Wales, said: "While some officers have had training in the new legislation across the board, there have been some inconsistencies, and there may be some officers who are yet to be given a full awareness and understanding of the new offence."
Mr Kempton said the federation welcomed the new legislation.
"Any sexual offences, including revenge porn, can have a devastating effect on victims. Until the new offence was enacted, police officers were often unable to show a criminal offence had taken place," he said.
How social media giants tackle revenge pornography
- Facebook said the sharing of non-consensual images had absolutely no place on its site. But with more than half the UK population using Facebook, the law of averages meant at times its service would sometimes be abused
- It said it had built up an extensive infrastructure for people to report offences, which were investigated by a team of experts across the globe, 24/7. The team pays special attention to non-consensual sharing, and removes offending photos as quickly as possible
- This year it teamed up with Google to host an EU Child Safety Summit, bringing together experts to discuss how the industry could keep young people safe online. It works with safety experts including Women's Aid, The Revenge Porn Helpline and Spunout to improve the way it tackles sharing of non-consensual images
- Instagram and Snapchat said they encouraged people to follow their community guidelines and if someone was threatening to share something intended to be private it should be reported. They both said reviewers check these reports 24/7 and move to remove any content or shut down accounts, which violate its guidelines
A petition urging a change in the law to give victims the right to anonymity has been launched by the Police and Crime Commissioner for North Yorkshire, Julia Mulligan, and a revenge-porn victim.
Media outlets routinely withhold the names of victims.
Dr Emma Short, the director of the National Centre for Cyber-Stalking at the University of Bedfordshire, is conducting a survey into the effect revenge porn has on its victims.
She said: "The number of young people affected is an area for great concern, but the figures probably only represent the tip of the iceberg.
"Sending 'nudes' in dating or pre-dating relationships has become something of a norm for young people aged 18 and under."
The Crown Prosecution Service was contacted for a comment, but has not yet responded.
Reporting team: Paul Bradshaw, Peter Sherlock, Sandro Sorrentino